Ellis Bent was the son of a London merchant trading to the West Indies. He was appointed Judge Advocate to the colony of New South Wales in 1809 and travelled with Governor Macquarie and the 73rd Regiment on board the Dromedary troop ship to the colony.
On board ship he kept a journal, wrote sketches of Porto Praya, Madeira and Rio de Janeiro, and was careful to copy all letters he sent to his family. He also wrote from the Cape of Good Hope and from New South Wales until 1811.
Ellis Bent has a merchant’s eye for detail and these documents give us a remarkable insight into the manners, customs and power play of the early nineteenth century including the customs of sea faring ships.
When the young Ellis Bent sailed into Port Jackson at the end of 1809, he carried with him the traditions of English law and a determination to put it into effect. Two years earlier, the colony’s only military coup had deposed Governor Bligh and with it the legal underpinnings of the colony’s courts. Governor Macquarie was sent to restore formal British government, and Bent to restore the lawful operation of the colony’s courts. Bent was the colony’s new Judge Advocate, to preside over all the courts. Ellis Bent was the first barrister to hold judicial office in New South Wales. He succeeded the gentleman amateur Richard Atkins who had been Judge Advocate off and on since 1796. Like Governor Bligh, Atkins was deposed by the military officers who illegally assumed government on the colony’s twentieth anniversary, 26 January 1808. After that a series of military officers acted as Judge Advocate for the rest of 1808. A year later, the rebels reappointed Atkins, having found that no one else had his skills. For most of 1809, Atkins continued judicial work as if nothing had changed... Variations in laws may have been tolerable, but what could not be tolerated was the complete overthrow of the colony’s government, even if the rebels kept up the form of the courts. The coup brought the colony’s curious legal status to a crisis, resulting in the appointment of Ellis Bent to make clear that English propriety was to prevail.As the letters in this remarkable volume show, Bent was determined to restore English law. He spent the next six years struggling to do so, sometimes finding that it was impossible...[Like] the celebrated first Chief Justice of New South Wales, Sir Francis Forbes, Bent found that it was necessary to adjust the application of English law in a new land.
- From the Foreword, by Bruce Kercher, President, Francis Forbes Society for Australian Legal History
Table of Contents
Foreword by Bruce Kercher
A note on editing the manuscript
A brief biography of Ellis Bent
Journal of a Voyage
Letters from the Voyage to Madeira
Sketch of the Island of Madeira
Letters from Madeira
Journal from Madeira to Porto Praya
Sketch of Porto Praya in the Island St Jago
Journal - Porto Praya to Rio de Janeiro
Journal at Rio
Account of the City of St Sebastians and the Harbour of Rio Janeiro
Letters from Rio
Journal from Rio to the Cape
Letters from the Cape of Good Hope
Letters from Sydney